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New MBaaS tool connects mobile apps to back-end services

Appcelerator's new Arrow feature aims to help IT and developers connect back-end systems to mobile experiences.

A new MBaaS tool aims to connect complex, mobile-unfriendly back-end systems with rapidly assembled APIs to move business processes to mobile.

Arrow is a new feature from Appcelerator Inc.'s platform for mobile application development. It provides a framework to build mobile-optimized APIs for employee and consumer-facing applications and simplifies mobile backend as a service (MBaaS).

Arrow gives IT and developers a scalable cloud service for running the new APIs. It's made up of two parts: Builder, which allows for rapid assemblage of APIs, data models and connectors; and Cloud, which runs the APIs and provides usage analysis and push notification support.

Enterprises find linking back-end services to mobile apps to be one of the top challenges around developing mobile apps, said John Jackson, vice president of mobility research at IDC in Framingham, Mass.

In some organizations, there can be tension between lines of businesses and IT on mobility and in many cases the latitude and the tools to make changes don't exist, Jackson said.

"Arrow is one of those things from an IT perspective that allows you to enable an entire business [around mobile] in a way that is manageable," he said. "The benefit is you are going to democratize application development within an organization and you have assurance about the integrity of the APIs being written."

Appcelerator connects healthcare systems

Limelight Health Inc. in San Francisco offers a software as a service platform for the health insurance industry that connects benefits technologies such as  payroll, CRM and compliance tools. It helps carriers standardize rate offerings to employers and creates real-time modeling for what cost options are available.

Limelight Health began to use Appcelerator Arrow before its release to help it create its native Apple iOS app for iPads. The original appeal was for building one code base and then having that app deploy on Google Android devices or desktops without the need for separate code bases, said Jason Andrew, Limelight's CEO.

Limelight's architecture is built on an open API integration to connect payroll, benefit administration, CRM and enrollment together.

"The health insurance industry is fairly antiquated and uses a lot of legacy systems that don't talk to each other, and that causes lots and lots of difficulties in terms of exchanging data," Andrew said.

Limelight uses Arrow to manage, deploy and connect its APIs faster.

"The APIs are the most important part for us, to develop those quickly," he said. "We've got a ton of integration partners we are working with and it's been a beast to develop each of those individually."

As an early-stage startup, Limelight has been pleased with Appcelerator's service.

"We can more quickly connect the systems and that's a huge deal for us," Andrew said. "We can manage APIs much more simply."

Arrow is not unique, however. Other MBaaS options include Kinvey Inc., Red Hat's FeedHenry Inc., Facebook's Parse tool, Kony Inc. and AnyPresence Inc.

The challenge for every company in the application development market -- be it MBaaS, mobile application development platforms or mobile enterprise application platforms -- is differentiation from competitors, Jackson said.

Connecting back-end systems through MBaaS is something providers besides Appcelerator already do.

"In a competitive market it can be very difficult to discern unique differences and competitive advantage," he said.

Arrow, part of the Appcelerator Platform, is available as a public preview and will be generally available in the coming weeks, according to the company. Arrow Cloud is included in the Indie version of the Appcelerator Platform, which is priced at $39 per seat, per month. Arrow Builder is then added to the Team version, priced at $259 per seat, per month. Customers can contact Appcelerator for pricing for the highest-level Platform product, Enterprise.

Jake O'Donnell is the news writer for SearchConsumerization.com and Search VirtualDesktop.com. He can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @JakeODonnell_TT.

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